Thursday, May 24, 2012

Marcus McCann, The Hard Return

He’s suspended in a porno of oppositions,

his particles part, the pause’s bowed drywall takes bets
on the boxing match of spent jerk vs. Zappa plunge.

And caught in pestle and grist, hassle and pest,

you – wimp, worrywart, Pythagorean pilot of plan B,
oh, you bookish pansy – wait for the unclenching whup,

for his frame to tap the coup he’s singing. (“Scene in Which a Neighbour Tries to Jump / from Your Window onto His Own Roof”)

Over the months since his first trade collection, Soft Where (Ottawa ON: Chaudiere Books, 2009), former Ottawa poet Marcus McCann’s gymnastic poems have become nearly bulletproof, composing lines one can bounce both quarter or a round off. His second collection, The Hard Return (Toronto ON: Insomniac Press, 2012), one of the final season of Paul Vermeersch’s tenure as poetry editor (before heading off to Wolsak & Wynn) writes of dislocation and location, writing the tension between a series of opposite positions. The density of McCann’s lines are incredibly packed, and move at lightspeed, nearly light-headedly so.

To be read aloud in unison

Non-proprietary methods of composition:
collaboration, enmeshment, mutually assured
instruction, Hail Mary, heightened sense of self.
Shoulder to shoulder, odd phalanx of bowled-over
lover-friends-lovers. Cosmic spirals of communication,
retuning, junk talk, yammer, here is a voice
and we are using it.

Here is a voice and we are using it.
Loose, jangly, not-quite-unison,
Discording. Us in a nighttime parking lot,
song-spilled, gin-singed, stab-slatted, yonder-longing
sketching on the side of a convenience store
that we are rattled. We use our hands sparingly.

Rickety wicker of our common selves.
Brittle, inhibited, possessive, jealousy ours,
especially. Us or a common alternative supplied.
Our shares in publicly traded company
indeterminate and valuable. Pleasingly left
guessing in the futures market.

In The Hard Return, McCann writes poems that pilfer and magpie from just about everything that surrounds, reshaping them into his own fantastic entities, and include commentary and critique on human interactions as well as the failure and confusion of those interactions. His poems are nearly those of Montreal poet Jon Paul Fiorentino’s, but with a denser line and far less pessimism. This is no Alpha or Beta Male but an eye that rakes and rages, processes swirling with comprehension. One of the threads through the collection is the critique somehow in the titles alone, a series of poems that lift lines from other sources [see Cameron Anstee’s review/commentary on the same here], his “Twenty-Two Toronto Poets Wake up on the / Bathroom Floor and Discuss Their Hangover,” “Twenty-Two BC Poets Use Orgasm As a / Metaphor for Belonging,” and “Twenty-Two Ottawa Poets Fail to Agree about / the Morning” (all of which list in the colophon the poems and poets borrowed from for each piece, in order of appearance). The Toronto poem begins:

It is spring over the porcelain bowl
and needs total silence. It carries you

hacking the day into shape on the phone, there is still no
water and erotics
to show I was prepared to die. Here, orange
stares at the grief-plunge.

I call myself every bad word I know.

How does he manage to boil so much down into such small spaces? He even includes a poem for leaving Ottawa for Toronto, “Town in a Long Day of Leaving,” the title poem to a small chapbook originally self-produced in a give-away run around the time he left. A great believer in the power of chapbooks, a number of these poems appeared previously in various chapbooks, including the works Heteroskeptical (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 2007), Town in a Long Day of Leaving (Ottawa ON: The Onion Union, 2009; above/ground press, 2009) and The Glass Jaw (The Onion Union, 2010), but a handful of the chapbooks he’s produced over the years. You know there’ll be more.

Poem for a Precious Chapbook
If spine is sheep, a fold
is a fold.

If spine is a wallet, fold
is a billfold

If spine is gimme one good reason, fold
is twofold.

If spine is a puzzle, fold
is baffled.

If spine is smothering grandma with a pillow, fold
is her, muffled.

If spine is a whip and harness, fold
is a blindfold.

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